Melpomene Street Blues: Archaeology of the Guste Homes in Central City

In 1961, the Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO) demolished a portion of the Melpomene neighborhood in Central City to make way for The William J. Guste, Sr. Homes, a public housing project consisting of 993 public housing units including a 12-story high-rise, a building for elderly residents, and six low-rise buildings.

The Melpomene neighborhood looked much like the rest of the Central City area, with densely packed houses, corner stores, and other small businesses. When HANO demolished those buildings to make way for the Guste Homes, much of the old building foundations and footings remained below ground.

In 2004, HANO demolished and began redeveloping the Guste Homes. In 2013, two archaeological firms conducted tests to see what was preserved in the blocks where Guste Homes once stood, revealing historical information about the Melpomene neighborhood that we wouldn’t otherwise be able to know.

In this tour, we will go back in time starting in 1964, when the Guste Homes opened, and focus on a few families who lived in the area over the previous hundred years.

2013 Archaeological Digs at the Guste Homes Site

According to the U.S. National Historic Preservation Act, any time a federal agency does something that could affect historic resources, it must take into account the effects of those actions. In the case of archaeology, this typically means…

1961 Construction of the William J. Guste, Sr. Homes

In 1961, the Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO) announced plans to construct the William J. Guste, Sr. Homes, named for the Housing Authority’s long-time general counsel. The 1961 Report of the Housing Authority of New Orleans declared: “The…

The Guste Homes and Melpomene Neighborhood in 1964

In 1964, the Urban League of Greater New Orleans published the results of “A Survey of the Recreational, Social, and Economic Conditions of the Negro Population of the William S. Guste, Sr., Homes and the Adjacent Areas.” The Housing Authority of New…

The Melpomene Neighborhood, 1930-1960

Between the 1930s and 1960s, racist policies at every level of government pushed Black residents of New Orleans into lower-paying jobs and racially segregated neighborhoods. Throughout the nation, local and federal government agencies used coded…

The Melpomene Neighborhood, 1900-1930

In working class neighborhoods like the Melpomene in Central City, the importance of women’s labor in the household’s economy is visible both in historical records and archaeological materials. Women worked as dress makers, cooks, and laundresses.…

The Melpomene Neighborhood, 1880-1900

By the early 1900s, the Melpomene neighborhood in Central City was a densely populated urban neighborhood, where many residents worked in occupations related to shipping, particularly in the nearby rail yards. Broadly speaking, the area was home…

The Melpomene Neighborhood Before 1880

In the Colonial Era, the area that eventually became the Melpomene neighborhood and later utilized for the Guste Homes was located in a low-lying backswamp zone at the rear of the Livaudais plantation tract, straddling land that became the Faubourgs…